Angel Haven team member, Racheal McCafferty is losing control of her superpowers, and it started benignly when an old man shook her hand. Now, she's being followed by a shadow man who terrifies her, but she's also tempted by the whispers of untold power he plants in her mind.
Joseph Caine is called in to help Rachael understand what is happening with her. As an earth wizard, he feels an affinity to her, believing he can help because they both have the same connection to the earth.
But as evil grows around them and Joseph begins having visions of death and destruction, he knows Rachael isn't the dark warlock's only target.
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An Angel's Heart
An Angel Haven Romance, Book 3
By Annette Miller
The Wild Rose Press, Inc.Copyright © 2016 Annette Miller
All rights reserved.
It's all my fault, Rachael thought. Tension radiated from the Angels team, and they'd avoided her all the way to the dark blue van that now carried them home. She'd tried to apologize several times, but the heaviness in her chest choked the breath from her, and the words wouldn't come. Heat blasted from the vents, trying to dispel the frigid January temperatures but couldn't warm the coldness she felt coming from Kristin.
She glanced at her team leader. As Kristin drove, her hands clenched the steering wheel, her back, ramrod straight, her gaze never wavering from the road stretching out into the descending darkness before them. Rachael had wanted to say something, anything, to ease the edginess around them but didn't know how or even where to start.
The gray bark of bare trees and dull, green bushes all blurred together as they sped back to Angel Haven, their home on the outskirts of Westchester, NY. She rubbed her right palm. These strange mood swings and slow loss of control began when an elderly man the Angels had saved shook her hand, holding it tightly. Pulling her gloves off, she absently scratched at it while continuing to stare out the window.
She thought back to the night's battle. How could I have been so careless?
Kristin turned up the long drive to the mansion they shared and parked in the garage on the side. The Angels climbed out and hurried inside, never looking back. They were tired and dirty and knew there was a discussion coming. A private discussion held behind closed doors between Rachael and Kristin.
Kristin laid her hand on Rachael's shoulder. "Come to my study. We need to talk about what happened tonight."
Rachael followed her through the kitchen and family room, down the hall to where Kristin could usually be found when not working out. The long runner on the floor muted their steps, the framed pictures on the walls, barely reflecting their passage as they headed toward the last door on the right. She sat in the chair in front of Kristin's modest desk, the queasiness in her stomach reminding her of her days as a child being called to the principal's office.
"Before you say anything, I don't know what happened to me out there," she said, her Irish brogue more pronounced when she was upset.
Kristin folded her hands on her desk. "You put us all in jeopardy. We have a specific code in place, and we don't break it. Ever."
"I'm sorry. When that flunky for Dagger took aim at you, I lost it. My temper got the better of me."
Kristin stood and leaned forward. "We are heroes. The power in us can be devastating. We cannot afford to 'lose it.' You're lucky the villain in question has a high healing factor and it was Jack's ULTRA team that responded to the call. I don't want to see you hauled away for murder. Our team does not kill."
Rachael jumped to her feet. "I know, Kristin. I'm not five. My power sometimes makes it hard for me to control my emotions. Don't you dare lecture me on our team's regulations. I know them all. You're going to have to be a little more understanding about what I go through when I shift. Every animal has a different temperament. There are times when I have a hard time controlling the various urges that run through me."
Kristin was silent for a few minutes. "Karen called me a couple of nights ago. She indicated a confrontation was coming."
"How would she know? Ever since she married Randall, we hardly see her anymore."
"The northeast clan's oracle knew what was going to happen, and Karen wanted to let me know. She thinks you may need help. She says the fairy court can feel your power growing. The magic attached to your shapeshifting is getting stronger. You need to learn how to get a handle on it."
Rachael laughed. "So now you think I can't control my own abilities?"
"I didn't say that. I believe your power is growing, so I made a phone call. Someone will be coming to talk to you. After that, it'll be your decision. You can accept his help or not. But Rachael, you need to get a grip on the changes in your powers. If you don't, the next time, you may actually kill someone."
"Fine. I'll talk to him. But after that, you all need to stay out of my business."
Rachael stalked from Kristin's office, stomping up to the second story and down the hall to her room. As much as she hated to admit it, everything Kristin said was true. She was losing control, and it scared her. Lately, she'd sensed an outside power following her. It was strong, dictating her actions at times. She sometimes felt her mind wasn't her own. Maybe, whoever was coming to see her, would be able to figure out what was going on in her life.
* * *
Joe opened a portal behind the scaly abomination as Damen fired more rounds into it, forcing it back. The blessed ammunition ripped jagged holes through the tough, gray hide, its black blood dripping on the ground. Roaring in pain, it swiped at Joe, the breeze from its thick hand making his hair wave from its passing.
He dove to the ground, rolling out of its grasp. "Chrissy, now!"
A thin, dark-haired woman stepped forward, purple light emanating from her hands. She thrust her hands outward, the light rushing forth, slamming the other-worldly beast in its shoulder and pushing it through the portal. Joe waved his arms in a wide arc, shutting the doorway before the thing could recover and charge back through.
Sweat rolled down his face despite the fact the temperature was in the twenties. He walked over to where he'd thrown his jacket and grabbed it, brushing the snow from it. He shrugged into it, zipping it halfway. He pushed his hair back and wiped his forehead with the back of his hand.
Joe turned to his friends. "Is it me, or are these lower level demons getting tougher?"
"You might be right," Damen said. "I don't think we've ever had such a hard time with one before."
Chrissy dusted off her pants. "How's your hand?"
Damen pulled out a small vial of clear liquid. "Nothing a little holy water can't fix. I still have some of Gizel's salve left, too. Joe, you okay?"
Joe touched his temple and flinched. "I'm all right. I just need an ice pack and some aspirin. Chrissy, how about you?"
She laughed. "It never touched me. I let you guys take the beating."
The two men looked at each other. "Figures," Joe said.
Damen checked his watch. "It's after seven, and we all have somewhere we need to be. I've got a meeting for a baptism. Joe, didn't the Angels team call you for some help with a situation?"
He nodded. "Yeah and I'm already running late. Chrissy, when you find out how the level one escaped its realm, let us know. We may be getting into something bigger than we think."
"Sure. Later, guys."
As she drove off, Joe and Damen headed for their own cars. Damen stopped and turned. "Joe, something about what you're checking into feels bad. Watch yourself."
"All the time. Keep the faith."
The priest smiled. "I always do. It's how I earn my paycheck."
He headed north out of the city to the more upscale community in Westchester, wishing he'd had time to get cleaned up first. A little hot water would do wonders for his aches and pains right about now. He did wonder why the Angels had called him and how they'd gotten his number. He'd have answers soon enough, and he was curious to meet them.
The Angels had been in the news more and more frequently over the past eight months. After the hidden cabal had been broken at ULTRA, it seemed the public and other, more popular hero teams, were accepting them. It probably didn't hurt they had the best ULTRA field commander in the organization's history vouch for them, either.
A chill worked its way into his bones as the night got blacker. The closer he got to Angel Haven, the more unsettled he became. He pulled over and, getting out, called up his mage site. As a teen, he'd mastered the ability quickly, grateful on many occasions he'd done so. Moonlight lit the woods with silver light, his mage sight showing only the creatures that belonged there. Nothing appeared out of the ordinary, but still, the whole area felt a little off. A trickle of blood leaked from his nose. He sniffed hard and wiped it off.
Something evil was out there, watching him, waiting for its moment. He frowned. He didn't believe in coincidences. The slight nosebleed told him that much. There was a being with a lot of power that didn't want him to get to his destination. The strangest part was the familiarity of it, like a memory he just couldn't put his finger on.
When nothing moved or charged to kill him, he started again, breathing a sigh of relief when the entrance appeared on his right. Saying his name into the speaker, the gates swung wide, beckoning him up the long drive to the mansion looming at the end. The tires crunched on some loose gravel and snow laying on the concrete as the car rolled to a slow stop.
He parked directly across from the front door, taking small comfort from the solitary light burning there. Stepping out, he stayed next to the car as he looked up at the second story. A dark miasma hung over the far corner of the house. It didn't feel like a haunting. It felt like magic. Dark, ancient, forbidden magic wizards throughout the centuries had tried to destroy. He took a deep breath and wrapped his fingers around the pendant around his neck while muttering a short, protection spell, then slammed the car door shut.
Jumping over the two, low, concrete steps, he rang the doorbell and waited. Long minutes passed, making him check over his shoulder. The hair on the back of his neck stood up, and a shiver that had nothing to do with the temperature crawled down his spine. When the door opened, a tall woman stood there. Chestnut brown hair brushed her shoulders and, from her grip as she shook his hand, she had more muscle than her slim build indicated.
"I'm Kristin, the Angels' team leader. The northeast werewolf pack told me I can trust you."
He nodded. "Joseph Caine. Sorry I didn't have time to get cleaned up. Had to take care of something before coming here tonight." He smiled a little. "And I know the pack well, so yes, you can trust me. How can I help you?"
"It's not me. It's one of my teammates. Her name is Rachael. She's a shapeshifter."
"I know who you mean," he said. "She's the member that can change into any of the earth's natural animals."
Kristin led him to her study. "Yes. We've known her power has magic at its base, but lately, her abilities appear to be getting out of control. We were wondering if you could help her figure out what was changing."
He shrugged. "I'm not sure what I can do, but I'll try."
"Wait here. I'll get her."
Joe studied the room as the door clicked shut. Dark brown paneling matched the desk and bookcases lining the wall to either side of a small fireplace. From what he could see, all the volumes were reference materials. There was a long filing cabinet, each drawer meticulously labeled. Three small plants were on a decorative, white, metal stand in front of a window covered by a sheer, off-white curtain.
He walked over to them, rubbing a leaf from each one between his thumb and forefinger. The plants let their fear bleed into him, and he fought the coldness trying to seep into his heart. He knew they could feel things more acutely than any human and tried to visualize what they were sensing. He shook his head, the images too incoherent to sort out. But now he knew for certain, something evil was here.
"You guys feel it, don't you? There's something here, and we've got to get it out, or the whole team is doomed."
Shadows danced to the flickering of the fire and instead of warm and cozy, the room held a sense of danger, of something started and cruising quickly to a bad conclusion. Joe shrugged his jacket up a little higher on his shoulders and rubbed his pendant between his thumb and forefinger. The sooner he could find out what was going on and fix it, the better.CHAPTER 2
The door opened and Joe turned. Rachael stopped just inside, and he stared at her. She was shorter than him by a good five inches. Loose ringlets the color of obsidian framed her heart-shaped face. In the middle, on top of her head, a shock of white hair hung over her violet eyes. Her natural defensive stance showed the toned muscles in her body.
His gaze moved down her body, from her perfect breasts to the tips of her tiny feet. The flare of her hips looked like they'd fit perfectly in his hands. She may be petite, but her strength of spirit filled the room and washed over him, letting him know, in no uncertain terms, she was no pushover. She was a fighter and an incredibly fierce one. He sensed her connection to the planet, and the underlying magic called to him, filling his senses with the sweet, yet spicy aroma of earth magic.
He frowned, picking up a taint in her abilities, a corruption in the early stages before showing itself. He shoved the feeling to the back of his mind and opened up his senses to try and find the reason why the magic in her powers was changing.
He stuck his hand out. "Joseph Caine. I'm guessing you're Rachael?"
Walking over to stand in front of him, she shook his hand. "You'd guess right. Rachael McCafferty."
He gestured to the chairs in front of the desk. "I was asked to come here to talk to you. Your team is concerned your powers may be getting stronger."
"Yes," she said, scratching at her right hand.
He waited. "Can you elaborate on that?"
She shrugged. "When I shift, I feel like I'm tapping into the earth itself. Like I'm not just becoming any of the animals that live here, but that I'm becoming the earth. It's a new feeling for me."
"I see." He was silent for a few minutes. "It sounds like a natural progression of your abilities. I'm not sure why your team called me. I'm a wizard, not a geneticist."
Rachael leaned a little closer to him, making him fight not to inhale her light perfume. It mingled together with the calming scent of lavender soap and shampoo, and the tangy, sweet scent of magic. With the floral perfume swirling around too, he didn't think anything would smell more wonderful than the woman in front of him.
"I think something is trying to control me. Tonight, we were called to a situation, and I seriously hurt one of the people we were trying to stop. That's not like me. I feel like I'm losing more of myself when I change."
Someone trying to control her would explain why her powers felt strange to him. "It's possible an outside force could be at work." Joe glanced at the ceiling. "What's in the upper story on the left side of the house?"
Rachael hesitated. "My room."
"With your permission, I'd like to check it out."
She smiled. "Is this a come on?"
His gaze shot to her face. Her slight smile showed dimples, and her eyes, an odd light violet he'd never seen before, twinkled with mischief, making him falter. "What? No. I picked up some bad vibes. I'd like to check it out and see if something permanent is here or not."
She stood. "Well, let's go."
He followed her out and up the stairs, admiring the way her hips swayed as she walked. And that unblemished white hair tapered down to the middle of all those curls. He loved the Irish brogue in her voice, and the pixie-like quality it gave her. As they walked down the hall, getting closer to her room, the air became heavier and more fetid. He struggled to draw a decent breath and forced all thoughts of Rachael out of his head.
When she reached out to open the door, he stopped her. "Wait. Don't go in."
Staring at him, she withdrew her hand and stepped back. "If you say so. I'll wait here if you need me."
Joe eased her door open and shut it behind him when he was in. He almost gagged from the smell of decay. How could she be in here and not notice it? Something was after her all right, and that corruption was most certainly throwing her powers out of whack. He took a deep breath and pulled up his mage sight.
He scanned the room, looking for anything out of the ordinary. Everything appeared normal, but something had left its mark here. Studying every piece of furniture, every item, he found nothing that could be the cause of her lost control. His mage sight showed him everything was clear, except an area by the window.
He walked over and inspected the glass and the frame around it. He stared out the window at the grounds. There. A spot by the large, oak tree. A portal had been opened. He opened the window and leaned out, the portal coercing him to come to it. His left hand came down on ice, the cold shocking him back to his senses. He slammed the window shut and turned.
Excerpted from An Angel's Heart by Annette Miller. Copyright © 2016 Annette Miller. Excerpted by permission of The Wild Rose Press, Inc..
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